The 1940 season was the finest of Bobo Newsom’s 20-year major-league career. After losing a 5-1 decision to the St. Louis Browns on Opening Day, Newsom won his next 13 decisions. On July 17, Newsom had a streak of seven consecutive complete games ended when he had to leave a game against the Boston Red Sox after four innings because a throw from Rudy York to Newsom covering first base hit Newsom in his right (pitching) thumb and broke two bones.1
Doctors initially estimated that Newsom would be lost for four weeks.2 Upon closer examination the next day, doctors reduced this to two to three weeks. But Newsom disagreed, suggesting that he could return in 10 days, saying, “When Bo-Bo wants a fracture to heal, it’s going to heal in a hurry and no doctor is going to say how long it has to take. Bo-Bo wants to get back in there and pitch the Tigers to the pennant.”3
It turns out that Newsom was right. Eleven days after breaking his thumb, Newsom returned to the mound for the first-place Detroit Tigers against the Philadelphia Athletics. Opposing Newsom (13–1) on the mound was Johnny Babich, who entered the game with a record of 8–8.
Newsom began the game with his right thumb heavily taped. The tape apparently affected his control, however. After walking two of the first three batters he faced, Newsom tore the tape off his thumb and pitched the remainder of the game with no protection on his broken thumb.4
Newsom’s control improved without the tape on his thumb, but a two-out single by Dick Siebert drove in Wally Moses with one run and catcher Billy Sullivan’s throwing error on a stolen base by Siebert let Sam Chapman come home with a second run.
The Tigers got one run back in the bottom of the second inning on Hank Greenberg’s home run and pulled back into a tie in the bottom of the third inning on a single by Pete Fox, a dropped throw by A’s shortstop Al Brancato, a single by Charlie Gehringer, and a throwing error by second baseman Benny McCoy.
The Tigers then took the lead with a three-run fourth inning. Rudy York led off with a double to right field. Mike Higgins gave the Tigers the lead with an RBI double to left. Sullivan hit the Tigers’ third double of the inning to make the score 4-2 and scored the Tigers’ fifth run on singles by Al Rubeling and Barney McCosky. The inning finally ended, with runners on first and third, as Gehringer grounded to second.5
Unfortunately for Newsom, the Tigers hitters decided to mostly take the rest of the day off. The Tigers made only four more hits over the rest of the game6 while the A’s chipped away at the Tigers’ 5-2 lead.
A single by Bob Johnson preceded a home run by Siebert in the sixth inning to pull the A’s within one run. And a double by Wally Moses in the top of the seventh was followed by an RBI single by Sam Chapman to tie the score, 5-5.7
The A’s threatened to break the tie in the top of the ninth inning when they loaded the bases with one out on a single by Rubeling, a fielder’s choice, and a walk to Bob Johnson. But Bobo Newsom “went into the air for Siebert’s bounder” which he turned into a nifty 1-2-3 double play to escape the inning.9 Beckmann set the Tigers down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning and the game moved into extra innings.
Finally, in the top of the 11th inning, the A’s broke through. Rubeling doubled to left field and Dee Miles walked. Sam Chapman hit a comebacker to Newsom and “Bo-Bo brought a pleased yell from the crowd when he grabbed the ball and threw Rubeling out in a force play at third.”10 But Bob Johnson quieted the crowd with an RBI single to center. Siebert doubled home two runs and when Frankie Hayes followed with a single, Newsom’s day was done. Archie McKain relieved him and allowed an RBI force out before finally getting out of the inning.11
The Tigers tried to put up a fight in the bottom of the 11th as Sullivan and Bruce Campbell led off the inning with back-to-back singles. But Beckmann got the next three batters on fly balls and the A’s won the game, 9–5.12
The loss dropped the Tigers’ record to 56-36. The second-place Indians also lost that day, however, so the Tigers’ lead remained at 1½ games. Although clearly disappointed, Newsom was philosophical after the game: “Maybe it wasn’t in the cards for me to win. Anyway, I’m a-start-in a new streak right now!”13 This prediction of Newsom’s proved as prescient as his earlier prediction about how long the broken thumb would sideline him. After a no-decision in his next start, Newsom earned the win against the St. Louis Browns on August 6, the first of four consecutive wins that ran Newsom’s record to 17-2. Newsom finished the season with a 21-5 record and a 2.83 ERA. And, true to his word, Bo-Bo did indeed “pitch the Tigers to the pennant” as they held off the Cleveland Indians by one game and the New York Yankees by two games to win the American League flag.
Newsom would go on to start three games in the 1940 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, completing all of them and pitching to a 1.38 ERA. But that was not quite enough, as Newsom and the Tigers lost Game Seven (and, hence, the World Series) by a final score of 2-1.14
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites.
For games for which Retrosheet does not have complete play-by-play data, volunteers do deduced play-by-play from contemporary newspaper accounts and other available information. I recently deduced this game as part of working through the 1940 season.
1 Charles P. Ward, “Red Sox Push Detroit Out of First Place,” Detroit Free Press, July 18, 1940: 13, 20.
3 “Fuming Bo-Bo Is Anxious to Return to Mound,” Detroit Free Press, July 19, 1940: 15.
4 “Detroit Ace Last Lost On April 16,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, July 29, 1940.
5 Charles P. Ward, “A’s 9-5 Victory Snaps Newsom’s String at 13,” Detroit Free Press, July 29, 1940: 11, 13.
7 James C. Isaminger, “Macks Rally in Eleventh, Beat Detroit,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 29, 1940: 17-18.
9 “A’s 9-5 Victory Snaps Newsom’s String at 13.”
14 For additional details about Newsom’s 1940 World Series performance and the circumstances surrounding it, see the biography of Newsom written by Ralph Berger for the SABR Biography Project as well as Will Anderson’s story on Game 5 of the World Series for the SABR Games Project.